The startup Volta Networks is decomposing the traditional hardware router. The company has taken the router control plane and moved it into the cloud. The control plane then communicates with a software agent that runs on whitebox hardware.
Volta says this approach gives it advantages over a traditional router running a monolithic code stack, such as the ability to increase compute resources on demand, and to run processes such as BGP and OSPF in containers. This means operators only use the functions they want, rather than run a full code base with bloated feature sets and long development times.
It’s also tapping into the benefits that come with disaggregation, virtualization, and multitenancy to take a unique approach to providing routing services to telcos, providers, and enterprises.
A Three-Piece Router
The Volta approach has three major components:
- a cloud-based control plane
- a routing agent
- a whitebox switch that functions as a router and can be carved into logical units for multitenant operation
The cloud-based control plane is called the Volta Network Control Platform (vNCP). The vNCP can run in a private or public cloud. Containerized elements for routing run in the vNCP. Volta calls these elements, which include things such as BGP, OSFP, IS-IS, and EVPN, the Volta Route Processors (vRPs). As mentioned, operators can choose only the functions they want.
Volta uses the Free Range Router (FRR) as its routing protocol suite for vRPs. FRR is a recent fork of the open-source Quagga router.
The vNCP uses Apache Mesos for orchestration and resource scheduling to manage resources for services running in the cloud.
Next is the routing agent, which runs directly on a whitebox switch. The agent interoperates with the network OS, which currently includes OpenSwitch, Open Network Linux, and Dell NOS 10. The agent also uses Volta-developed APIs to interact with merchant silicon from Broadcom and Mellanox. It can also run on x86 devices and supports DPDK.
The agent is programmed with operational rules and policies from the cloud-based vNCP. If the agent loses connectivity with the cloud, it will run autonomously based on its most recent configuration.
The agent can take a physical device and carve it into up to 250 virtual routers with their own administrative domains and addressing space.
In addition to these components, operators create the network services they want to run via a Volta library of data models written in YANG.
Volta is one of many companies re-imagining how traditional network hardware and software can be taken apart and stitched back together. On the software side, startups such as Cumulus and SnapRoute are offering customizable NOSs that can run on a variety of hardware and let operators choose the features and services they want. On the hardware side, companies such as Barefoot and Innovium are bringing programmable ASICs to market.
And incumbent vendors are also getting in on the act; Juniper Networks recently announced JunOS node slicing, which lets customers run multiple instances of JunOS, each with its own separate administrative domain, on the same physical MX router.
These companies aren’t just disrupting for the lulz; their goals are to make networks more amenable to automation, to streamline code bases and decouple software development lifecycles from hardware development, to enable greater flexibility and programmability, and to more fully take advantage of merchant silicon.
About Volta Networks
Volta was founded in 2015 by Dean Bogdanovic, a former distinguished engineer at Juniper Networks. The company is headquartered in Boston, MA. According to CrunchBase, the company has raised a seed round from an undisclosed investor.
The company says it is in active trials with partners. Volta is targeting service providers, telcos, and data center operators.